When Arsenal are the lucky visitors to Wigan, their domineering figure of footballing superiority surprisingly tend to bring out the best in the home side. However, that wasn’t the case on Saturday.
Down the years we’ve seen some thrillers haven’t we? Albeit not too many points have been earned but performances significantly increase in quality when Arsene’s boys are in town. If we performed in such a manor every week then we might have beaten the West Broms, Fulhams and Birminghams of this league every time.
Think back to the first ever Premier League encounter between the two, Henry swept home two fantastic goals with the arrogance of an Eric Cantona and Jimmy Bullard fired in a cracker from the edge of the box in equal ability just less swagger. That’s what happens when you’re Wigan instead of Arsenal though.
The ultimate Arsenal Wigan encounter has to be the obvious doesn’t it? In April 2010, the scene was set for a routine away victory at the DW with Walcott and Silvestre firing past Kirkland to make it 2-0 to the Gunners. Low and behold, an enthralling final ten minutes provided the greatest shock since Liverpool’s comeback in Istanbul. Dare I suggest that Latics’ achievement looked even less likely than Liverpool’s at one point?
Charles N’Zogbia was the hero that day with the sort of mazy dribble we became used to that season, followed by an unstoppable finish which crashed in off Fabianski’s right post. It was one of those moments when time seemed to stand still as the ball flashed into the net and the roar from the crowd was easily the loudest I’ve heard at the DW, and that’s including away fans.
Although Arsenal still tend to get the better of us at the DW, with three wins and two draws from the previous six meetings, they’ve rarely had an easy ride at Wigan.
Of their three wins, one was the aforementioned 3-2 win in 2005/06; the second was the during following season due to a last minute winner from Emmanuel Adebayor in a tight affair. The only disappointing defeat was the 4-1 loss in April 2009, but half the Latics team were already on their holidays by then, even the ever reliable and committed pair of Mido and Zaki.
It’s fair to say then, that Saturday’s match can be regarded as nothing more than an anti-climax where history didn’t repeat itself.
Well not in terms of performance anyway, it seems the previous two improvements have been nothing more than a red herring in terms of how Wigan would play in this one.
What I will say is losing to Arsenal is no disgrace, plenty of teams much better than ourselves will get turned over by Arsenal this year and I expected us to lose, but the manor of defeat of standard displayed was hard to take from a Wigan point of view.
If fans were bewildered by only having one striker in a 4-5-1/4-3-3 system, then they must have been totally and utterly perplexed by whatever system Martinez chose on Saturday.
It started off as a seemingly familiar 3-5-2 system, which despite what Steve McLaren sparked in the media from England’s mauling of it, can be a successful system if played correctly. It wasn’t the most popular formation of the 1970s sides of Brazil and co for nothing.
Yet when it’s played by the likes of Zico and Socrates, it’s bound have yield more glory than when it’s played by Stam and Gomez.
The 3-5-2 gradually merged into a confused 5-5-0 almost depending on whether Latics lost possession (which they did quite often) and how many miles out of position each player was.
The main concern for me was the deep line and lack of pressure on the ball, especially in high areas.
Against a team notorious for their strict passing creativity and building from the back, this was suicide.
Arsenal inevitably rolled the ball across their back four on the half way line comfortably, with absolutely zero pressure from any opposing forwards. This allowed Arsenal to build wave after wave of attack and made their job so easy.
This lack of pressure was a key factor in the first goal, Gomez invited Arteta to scroll past him with no hint of a challenge, in fact he moved out of the way to make the Latics’ midfield part like the red sea. Now I could understand if it was Moses who had the ball, but not Arteta (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
The second contributing factor was the deep line of defence which meant that once Arteta was free of the pathetically weak midfield opposition provided, he had acres of empty space to stroll into and fire a shot towards goal. I must say I’d expect a player of his quality to seize an opportunity with much more creativity than he did, but his shot found its way into the net due to a patch of soft goalkeeping from the usually reliable Ali Al-Habsi.
Within two minutes of the restart, Wigan managed to concede again and with morale lower than their league position, it meant it was game over after less than half an hour.
Thomas Vermaelen was the scorer in what was a standard corner routine, never have I seen two goals so easily scored.
This was a shame as with Wigan deflated, we looked unlikely to score and the game was effectively over as a contest.
The half time whistle ensured that at least Wigan wouldn’t concede again for a further fifteen minutes, whilst I was looking forward to the best entertainment of the day: the world famous crossbar challenge.
Although the system was amended slightly to a penalty shoot out, the action was tense as usual. And watching the youngsters take penalties made it clear why England don’t tend to do well in shootouts and if this evidence was anything to go by, won’t in future tournaments either.
If history was anything to go by, Wigan were sure to take something out of the game. Arsenal had led 2-0 in both of the previous two meetings at the DW and failed to win on both occasions.
Unfortunately, we had neither the class of N’Zogbia nor the firepower of Arsenal defender Sebastien Squillaci to call upon.
Instead, the game continued in the same fashion as it had for the previous forty five minutes, with Arsenal not breaking sweat and effortlessly strolling in a further two goals.
After Gervinho tapped home the rebound from an Ali Al-Habsi save, the game was only to be complete when Robin Van Persie scored. The inevitable happened when Theo Walcott sprinted past Gary Caldwell (when in hindsight we could have walked) and put the ball on a plate for his skipper to fire home.
It’s this kind of gutless and insignificant performance that is reminiscent of a relegation side and with every ‘ole’ that greeted Arsenal’s mass amount of short passes, I sighed a little inside. Bottom of the pile with only three weeks until Christmas, the situation looks bleak and a tough run in will hardly please Whelan as Martinez seeks a little help from old St. Nick.
This weekend saw the death of footballing legend and icon of charisma Socrates at the age of 57. The former Brazil captain led his country to the 1982 World Cup title as an integral midfield maestro in arguably the greatest international side ever. Despite such glories, his career highlight must be the solitary appearance he made for Garforth Town in 2004. Rest in peace to a legend.
Meanwhile, Yakubu proved that maybe he has got some goalscoring talent and it wasn’t just the combination of Gohouri and Caldwell making him look semi-decent two weeks ago at the DW. He managed to bag four goals as Blackburn beat Swansea 4-2 at Ewood Park. Granted, only the first was even slightly spectacular and the other three compromised of two tap ins and a penalty. But what would us Latics fans give for someone who could score a fair amount of goals, never mind the quality? Oh, and he scored them all whilst being a lone striker…
The top of the table may seem like a million light years away but in geographical terms at least, it’s only about 25 miles. City continued their rampaging dominance of the league with the 5-1 demolition of Norwich, whilst there were also wins for Chelsea, Spurs and Man Utd with varying degrees of comfort.
Goal of the Week: There were a few contenders, Shaun Wright-Phillips’ emphatic goal that never was would have taken some beating; whilst Mario Balotelli’s ‘shoulder finish’ is a contender for pure arrogance. Yet my winner is Sergio Aguero’s near impossible finish for Man City against Norwich.
Steve McMillan of the Week: My vote goes to Daniel Sturridge for his exciting display of his attacking talent at St James’ (sorry, the Sports Direct Arena) to terrorise Ryan Taylor. Despite some ropey finishing, he managed to get his goal in the end with a last minute strike.
Steve Bruce of the Week: It has to be the man himself doesn’t it? Losing to Wigan is bad enough, but when they’re your former club the pain doubles. Getting subsequently sacked makes it embarrassing to go out in public, I imagine anyway.
Quote of the Week: I’ve heard two interesting takes on Saturday’s action on Five Live, firstly: “And this game is very 0-0.” Personally, I didn’t realise there was varying degrees of how goalless a game could be. Secondly, Phil Gartside’s take on one of his ‘favourite players’ was interesting: “Don’t get me wrong, Stuart Parker is one of my favourite players, but I don’t think we would have scored from there.” Phil’s so fond of Scott that in fact, that he can’t correctly recall his name.
Boselli Watch: Reports are emerging that Mauro himself has had his phone hacked. In the latest twist in the saga, journalists reportedly hacked Boselli’s phone to try and work out why on earth Martinez signed him. Ten voice messages revealing Boselli’s habit of ordering takeaways may explain his lack of pace, but not the original objective.